If you like history and art but want contact with local and popular culture, then the Pestana Convento do Carmo is the right destination for you. Right in the heart of Pelourinho, the most famous neighborhood of the historic center of São Salvador da Bahia, here is an old Carmelite convent whose cells have been converted into spacious and luxurious rooms for an absolutely unforgettable stay. Without losing even a minute of the amazing and exciting local life, it is the perfect place to retreat to after a cultural tour, a trip to the beach or even after a lively shopping session.
Cross the extraordinary gate, flanked by stonework, pass by Our Lady of the Keys of Heaven - the saint lying in the chapel where slaves could hear the Mass - and reach the first cloister. Here, the light domes follow one another along the corridors in slabs decorated by the ancient wooden benches of the convent. But don't be fooled by the asceticism we breathe here: your room will be much closer to the decorative richness of the reception. You can sit down and check-in, with all tranquility, while you are given a moist towel and a drink so you can cool off and recover from the city heat. Salvador is always hot, to remind you that even though you are in a convent you might find in the oldest cities in Europe, you are still in one of the most desired and sought after tropical destinations in the world.
This feeling grows stronger as you walk through the second cloister towards your room: the amazing pool integrated in this space, designed in a way to interfere as little as possible with the original architecture, occupies the space of a fountain. Surrounded by chestnut trees of Maranhão, the lounge beds and hammocks are hidden among the lush green plants and immediately call for you. It's hard to leave this space but believe that it's worth it: in the convent, start discovering the long corridors of tall ceilings where your footsteps echo and where the doors hide secrets that are difficult to unravel. Not all doors lead somewhere and nothing is what it seems; a small and modest cell door can lead to a sumptuous luxury suite; a huge door can take you to a comfortable and cozy room, full of natural light.
After marveling and becoming familiar with your room, start exploring the richness of the convent. The various shutters, wide open over the city streets, bring to you the animated voices and the typical hustle and bustle of Salvador. There is a window with a wonderful view of the Bay of All Saints, where the sunset is a must-see spectacle. Pick your towel, ask for a freshly-made juice or a cold drink at the bar and lie down in your chair in front of the pool. It will be difficult to want to get out of here. The smooth, quiet music rocked by the heat and the breeze that sometimes blows helps you create a new concept of tropical paradise.
As you leave the pool, enjoy the jacuzzi and the Turkish bath. If you need an excuse to enjoy the extraordinary fusion of Portuguese cuisine with Bahia flavors in the Conventual restaurant, then head over to the gym, where a good hour on the treadmill and some weights series give you all the legitimacy to enjoy the incredible environment of the cloister without any guilt. Be sure to visit the chapels and the incredible Sacristy which reached its maximum splendor in the 18th century, with its intricate and rich decoration in rocaille style, where the tempered golden show all the opulence of the materials used at the time in Brazil. The incredible cabinets made with the noblest wood - rosewood, decorated with silver handles, still keep the paraments of the sixteenth century that the priests use nowadays in religious acts.
The recreation of the Last Supper, the tables depicting St. Elias' life and the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, with its human dimension extremely present by wavy brown hair and brown eyes in glass do not prepare you for the impressive statue of Christ. Carved by a slave in wood, with a treatment that mimics marble, the agony of Christ represented here establishes a relationship with the immense suffering of the slaves. It is almost palpable, this pain in this piece. If you want to learn more about Bahia sacred art and its relationship with the slaves, there are plenty of stunning locations. The incredible Saint Francis Church, all decorated with gold, has a chapel of Our Lady of the Open Hand, black, to portray the area where the house slaves and the hand-barrow carriers could attend the mass, in segregated fashion.
On a more cheerful note, but equally impressive, you should get to know the amazing and intricate religion of Candomblé. There are several ground yards where you can watch the ceremonies, provided that you respect the believers and do not take pictures, but if you want a less intense experience in the Iemanjá shrine you can watch offerings and in the Tororó lake you can find the largest Orishas of this amazing religion. If you leave the Pestana Convento do Carmo on foot, you will find numerous academies of capoeira and art galleries that mix rhythms, colors and religions in a free kind of way. Cool off with a delicious coconut water with lemon in front of the Jorge Amado Cultural House, replenish your strength with one of the street acarajés and escape the women who try to charge you 50 reals per photo.
The best way to make the most of Pelourinho is to walk without a wallet or camera, no rings or watches or jewelry, always have small bills in your pockets and always haggle at the shopping street. In the shops, prices are clearly marked. And while exploring the city, be sure to visit the famous Bonfim Church, where wishes are asked, blessed and placed in strip form attached to the railings of the Church. The amazing and colorful effect helps you get in the Bahia spirit, contagious and cheerful, which is found in almost all the faces in the city. And best of all is that in the end, after all the sightseeing, exploring and experiencing, you will always have your piece of heaven waiting: the Pestana Convento do Carmo, where tranquility, elegance and sobriety prevail, a stark contrast to the living in the city. Undoubtedly, here you will spend an unforgettable vacation.
Pestana´s Tip: Although heavily policed, the Pelourinho neighborhood attracts both tourists and opportunists waiting for you to lose focus on your belongings. Do not make things easy for them and keep yourself simple, attentive and relaxed to enjoy what Salvador has to offer: the animation in the streets.